Monday 22 October 2012

Canada's Crime Creation Policy

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews in Parliament, retrieved from
On  August 2, 2012 I posted a blog on torture in American prisons. Lest it be thought that I like to criticize the Americans but not my own country, I want to point out that our current Conservative government is engaged in a policy to ensure more crime in Canada. The government thinks that the way to combat crime is through stiffer sentences, even though we know that “tough-on-crime” policies fail and even though Canada’s crime rate has been falling since 1992 and is now at the same level as 1972, according to an article by Gloria Galloway in the Globe and Mail. The government  has instituted minimum sentencing rules that don’t give judges the discretion to take the particular circumstances of the offender into account; some judges have refused to abide by these rules, saying they violate our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet data on recidivism rates show that offenders given non-prison punishments are much less likely to reoffend than those who are incarcerated, according to an article in The Walrus, a Canadian monthly, by Edward Greenspan, a prominent Toronto lawyer, and Anthony Doob, a criminologist.
The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Prisoners say that “Where sleeping accommodation is in individual cells or rooms, each prisoner shall occupy by night a cell or room by himself,” but our prisons are now so overcrowded that double-bunking in cells built for one is common. In fact, according to Galloway, it’s so bad that the president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, Pierre Mallette, is complaining. With serious overcrowding, fights and other disruptions are more frequent and guards have to rely more on firearms. Mr. Mallette is also worried that there aren’t enough educational programs for the inmates, who will be released one day into the community without the resources they need to survive without committing more crimes. Yet the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for prisoners also say that “further education shall be provided to all prisoners” and that  “recreational and cultural activities like sports, music and other hobbies shall [also] be available to all prisoners.” Without these programs, there will be more mental illness, more fighting, and more attacks on guards; and more former prisoners will return to crime upon their release.
And then there are the aboriginal prisoners. With more incarceration and higher rates of recidivism the crime rate will undoubtedly increase in aboriginal communities. And one can predict that there will be even higher rates of suicide than the shockingly high rates that already exist among aboriginals, when prisoners are released into the community without the resources to fend for themselves.
Meantime, the same government that has opened an Office of Religious Freedom in its foreign affairs department has decided to cut the number of chaplains available in our prisons by eliminating paid part-time positions Yet according to an article by Jill Mahoney in the Globe and Mail, most of the paid full-time positions are for Christian chaplains, while 18 of the 49 part-timers are members of minority religions. The government thinks Christians can minister to all prisoners, even providing services for all of them. I am sure the Christian chaplains would do their best to minister to prisoners’ psychological and social needs, but how can a Christian chaplain conduct a Muslim, aboriginal or other service, or recite the correct prayers? I guess our current government supports freedom of religion for everyone except people in Canadian jails.
Canada has the resources to take care of our prisoners, we have the trained personnel, and we have the chaplains. But we also have a government that won’t look at the evidence and that uses a purported surge in crime to garner the populist vote. God help us all when the crime rate rises as a result of these policies.

Gloria Galloway, “Overcrowding makes life dangerous for workers and inmates in prisons,” Globe and Mail, September 14, 2012.
Edward L. Greenspan and Anthony N. Doob, “The Harper Doctrine: Once a Criminal, Always a Criminal,” The Walrus, September 2012, pp. 22-26.
Jill Mahoney, “Prisons to lost non-Christian chaplains,” Globe and Mail, October 6, 2012, p. A16.
Thanks to:
 Andrew Basso for helping me with the research for this post.

Monday 8 October 2012

Genocide Denial 2012: Pol Pot Revisited

A few days ago Chris Alcantara, one of my colleagues in the Department of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University, forwarded me an article by one Israel Shamir in a newsletter called CounterPunch, entitled “Pol Pot Revisited.” You can find it at Chris suggested I might want to reply to Shamir’s genocide denial. Shamir seems to think that all the evidence of genocide and mass atrocities that has accumulated since Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 is false.
Stupa filled with skulls of Khmer Rouge victims at Choeung Ek,
retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
Yet every scholar of genocide and of Cambodia that I have ever encountered agrees that the Khmer Rouge perpetrated genocide against ethnic and religious minorities (Chinese, Vietnamese, Muslim Chan) and politicide against ethnic Khmer whom they viewed as their opponents; they also cleared out Phnom Penh, the capital, in order to implement a radical, so-called “peasant,” revolution. Shamir admires the Khmer Rouge for its attack on Phnom Penh, which he thinks was a cesspool of money-grubbing capitalists. He doesn’t mention the horrible deportations of all its residents in the space of three days, the deaths of children, the elderly, and the sick on the forced march to the countryside. He doesn’t mention that both urban and rural ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese were murdered en masse. The Cambodians may be “peaceful and relaxed” in 2012, as he claims -- though I doubt that those who live in poverty and insecurity spend much time being relaxed—but they definitely were not in the late 1970s. The Khmer Rouge were not peaceful; they were cruel and brutal. Their victims were certainly not relaxed: they worked ferociously long hours in the countryside, and in the hours they were not working somehow had to find food to supplement their extremely meager rations without getting into trouble for “stealing” roots and weeds. Child prisoners were neither fed, educated, nor cared for in any way; they died en masse as slave labourers.
Mass graves at Choeung Ek, retrieved from Wikimedia Commons
In fact, Shamir’s piece reads like a leftover from Stalinist days. He says that the memorial of the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, which he visited, “recalled other CIA-sponsored stories of Red atrocities, be it Stalin’s Terror or the Ukrainian Holodomor.” Timothy Snyder says in his recent book, Bloodlands, that about three million people died of starvation in Ukraine in 1932-33. Stalin’s official stole Ukrainians’ crops and exported food overseas while Ukrainians starved.  There’s also plenty of evidence that Stalin’s purges and political terror caused millions to die, though the exact figures aren’t yet known. As well as reading Bloodlands, Shamir should read The Black Book of Communism.
I have a question for the editors of Counterpunch. There’s plenty to criticize about capitalism and globalization. I am sure Shamir is correct in saying that Cambodian women manufacturing T-shirts for the world market earn very little and are not permitted to unionize. I’m also prepared to accept his assertion that Cambodian forests are being denuded of valuable trees. Shamir is also correct that the Americans bombed Cambodia ferociously (and illegally) during their war against the Viet Cong in the early 1970s, that many peasants fled to the capital to avoid the bombing, and that to understand what happened in Cambodia in the late 1970s we have to take the American bombing into account. But why also publish genocide denial? Even if every person who was murdered, tortured to death, or died of starvation or dehydration in Cambodia from 1975 to79 had been a blood-sucking capitalist, it would still be genocide. You’re not allowed to engage in the mass murder of any social group.
Bones of Khmer Rouge victims, retrieved from
Wikimedia Commons
But I also have a question for myself: should I even bother, as I am doing now, to reply to Shamir? Is it better to reply or just ignore such an obvious denial of what every reputable scholar of the field acknowledges as genocide? I certainly can’t reply in this short blog to everything Shamir claims as truth. And it’s all the more surprising that Shamir himself writes what he does, since he knows that former Khmer Rouge members still hold power in Cambodia. Shamir tells us that the Cambodians he met on his short trip there “have no bad memories of [the Pol Pot] period.”  But he tells us this despite acknowledging later in his article that “the present government does not encourage…digging into the past, and for good reason: practically all important officials above a certain age were Khmer Rouge members, and often leading members.”
There’s one interesting little factoid in this piece though.  Shamir tell us that Cambodian factory workers earn about $80.00 per month, which may well be accurate. Then he tells us that “NGO reps earn in one minute the equivalent of a wormer’s monthly salary.” I did the math: at $80.00 per minute times 60 minutes per hour times 40 hours per week, that works out to $192,000 per week for “NGO reps.” A great opportunity for young activists starting out in life with massive student debt!
Timothy Snyder, Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, New York: Basic Books, 2010.
St├ęphane Courtois et al., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999.